In the days and months following Sept. 11, 2001, the effects of the attacks were felt in nearly every courthouse and public building in West Virginia. Evacuations and threats were reported for days following. In Charleston, bomb threats and anthrax scares emptied buildings. Police cruisers formed a barrier around city hall while armed officers kept watch. The threats turned out to be hoaxes and the cars have since returned to normal parking spots. But the lasting effects from Sept. 11 are still evident. Yeager Airport's new security measures match the largest airports in the nation.
The attacks resulted in a push from elected and public officials seeking a way to make West Virginians feel safe. Metal detectors went up and ID cards came out.
Lanyards were all the rage. In Dunbar, Buchanan Sound and Electronics saw an increase in business immediately after Sept. 11. "Early on, it really picked up. Everyone wanted to get moving on things," said Michael Bryant, vice president and assistant manager of the communications and security outfit.
"A lot of people had things on the back burner before Sept. 11 and this moved it up on their list," he said. Though officials in the Kanawha County Courthouse began pushing a security plan of their own shortly after Sept. 11, nothing has been decided on the buildingwide plan. "I feel like we are a whole lot better prepared," said Bill White, Kanawha County Emergency Services director. White, who is charged with disaster response rather than prevention, said there have been no real changes to the county's plans, but the awareness has increased. It's not that the county can guarantee safety, but officials are trying to ensure a safe feeling, White said. "I don't know that they are any safer, but they feel safer," White said of county residents. "The feeling of security is a big aspect of it. I don't think you can ever be completely secure."
Plans are to use Bryant's company to place cameras and possibly a swipe-card entry system for the Kanawha County Courthouse doors. For chemical companies in the Kanawha Valley, added security issues started the moment terrorists rammed the airliners into the World Trade Center. Jerry Ring, spokesman for Dow Chemical Co.'s West Virginia operations said last year that there wasn't any reason to believe the state's chemical operations were targeted. However, Dow and most other companies tightened their security. A year later, those security improvements are still in place and officials are identifying plants' most vulnerable spots, said Dow spokeswoman Nikki Smith. "Immediately after Sept. 11, of course we heightened our security level ASAP and we have continued to operate at a heightened level of security." Bayer CropScience's Institute plant has changed the bottom line for its security levels. Beginning in March, the company's five-level security code was increased to be more stringent, said Bayer spokesman Tom Dover. "The steps we have taken are significantly improved over what we had," Dover said. Also, there is more surveillance and additional checks of those who come and go at the plant, Dover said. White said that before the attacks, Kanawha County was aware of its situation. Regardless of the low profile the chemical industry desires in the Kanawha Valley, White said it's always been a safety priority. "They always were secure, but not this secure," White said. As for other public and private buildings, Bryant said there's more interest in new security technology. Swipe-cards, identification cards and surveillance cameras — though still prevalent — are being replaced in some places with retinal or hand print scanners. "It's not necessarily that the cards and cameras aren't working, but with the card system if there's a card lost it becomes a weak spot," Bryant said. To contact staff writer Charles Shumaker, use e-mail or call 348-1240.